With Chicago experiencing its first burst of glorious warm weather, I’ve been doing what I’ve done the past three springs I’ve lived here: playing music from the local scene in Milwaukee. Maybe it’s because I spent my formative college years packed into Milwaukee dive bars, or maybe I just naturally gravitate to bands with summery sounds, but right now the album I’m listening to on repeat is one I’ve only ever listened to in earbuds in Chicago: a fun little five-track called Fast Food from Paper Holland. Opener “Lemon” is an ideal song to welcome in summer, with lyrics invoking muggy heat and a quiet intro that grows bouncier and bouncier, until at last it erupts into a brass-backed chorus that puts one of Liz Lemon’s more quotable turns of phrase into exuberant song. The rest of Fast Food is just as bright and self-assured, with each song breaking for an instrumental surprise and a few Vampire Weekend-like detours. Like the album’s namesake, this is a quickly consumed album of convivial pop—a brief sound of summer that lasts all of 14 minutes.
Despite the fact that he’s turning 80 next week, Dick Dale—the legendary guitarist who helped pioneer the sound of surf rock—is still touring annually. The show is shockingly fun, with Dale improvising his way from famous riff to famous riff while his backing band does its best to follow his whims. It’s also an awesome reminder of how much more there is to his career than “Misirlou,” the epochal classic that Quentin Tarantino reintroduced to the world with Pulp Fiction. In fact, I think Dale’s surprisingly diverse 1962 debut album, Surfers’ Choice, is a stone-cold masterpiece, and I’ve found myself spinning it a lot again recently. For me, the cornerstone is a lesser-known Dale stunner called “Surfing Drums.” It’s little more than a jam session built atop the immortal Bo Diddley shuffle, and while the Del-Tones simmer in that familiar beat, Dale’s guitar periodically stabs through and eventually bursts into a full-on solo that lands like a hail of daggers. You even get to hear Dale sing as he growls out some cool-sounding nonsense about “Mama going downtown to die,” and the surfing drums themselves close out the track with a simple solo. Still, this one is all about the havoc and sheer piercing beauty of Dale’s guitar. It’s a sound unlike any other, and if you do happen to catch one of those live shows, be prepared for it to kick your ass.
Denmark’s Mikkel Valentin Dunkerley makes electronic music under a half-dozen guises, some with telling names, such as Pummeler (which is indeed very pummeling), others with obfuscating, Mad-Libbed monikers like Albino Groupie and Grass Traffic. Uniting them all is a deft hand with sonic murk, something Dunkerley wields with an unusually sensuous touch—and never more stylishly than as Internazionale. That washed-out, noirish aesthetic has long been mirrored in Internazionale’s packaging, most of which has only been made available as cassettes, with cover art collages seemingly drawn from old porn movies and fetish magazines. But on the new The Pale And The Colorful, Internazionale’s first-ever vinyl release, Dunkerley allows his music to match the heightened fidelity, revealing a sound that’s every bit as slow-burn subdued, but with dynamics that previous releases left buried in the hiss. “They Taught Us To Count The Days” is just a small sampling, building from ominous, Angelo Badalamenti synth tones and bursts of short-wave radio feedback into a cavernous, droning middle section reminiscent of Tim Hecker, before it fades back out, those tones now taking on a slightly mournful quality. It’s a seven-minute sci-fi epic, landing squarely in the middle of Dunkerley’s most defining musical statement yet (under this name, anyway).
Tee Grizzley first gained attention for his video for “First Day Out,” a track he recorded the day he was released after three years of a much longer sentence for armed robbery. The track is a hook-free four-minute scorcher that oscillates effortlessly between deeply lyrical introspection and minor-key chest-thumping. Tee names names from his neighborhood while boasting about the fact that he’s legally not allowed to enter jewelry stores in Kentucky. The video itself exudes the same scrappy intensity, with Grizzley rapping in front of the very penitentiary in which he served and sauntering into the very jewelry stores from which he’s barred. A half-year since that video’s release, Grizzley has finally dropped a full mixtape, the likable but slight My Moment. “First Day Out” is its second track, arriving right after an a cappella intro that evokes the dark-night-of-the-soul rumination and impromptu tabletop percussion that Grizzley taught himself to rap over while in jail. He may have a better album in him down the road, or he may not, but the accomplishment of “First Day Out” still stands. It sounds like a lifetime lived out in verse.
Andy Falkous has been making manic, abrasive music for nearly two decades, and though he’s best known for Mclusky’s classic Do Dallas album, his smartass rage has continued in other incarnations since that band’s split. On his own—though “NOT,” as he ruefully notes, “a solo artist”—he’s taken the name Christian Fitness, which is funny but also a bit difficult to Google. Slap Bass Hunks is the fourth Christian Fitness full-length, and the difference between it and his more recent work fronting Future Of The Left is maybe just a bit of looseness, though it still features plenty of snarling. The title track proves once again that Falkous is the king of naming songs, and it’s the album’s most tornado-like track, swirling and making sense more on a visceral than a literal sense: “It ebbs, flows, moves through your bones / Slap bass hunks in the heart of the kingdom.” I get it, but I don’t, and that’s okay, because I feel it.